Royal Enfield celebrates 120 years of motorcycle history this year and in the past 55 years or so the Royal Enfield brand has traveled a road with more rises and falls than the Himalayan Mountains. However, unlike every other British marque, Royal Enfield have survived throughout to claim the longest continuously made motorcycle brand still in existence mantle. It is well documented that when manufacturing was transferred to India in 1970 the build quality of the machines left a lot to be desired, however, as India has grown into a much more modern and prosperous society the Royal Enfield brand has grown with the subcontinent. A lot has been written about those earlier troubled times and the company that has owned the brand for the best part of 20 years are probably sick to death of being reminded what the Royal Enfields used to be like as they forge a new path forward.
The company now powering Royal Enfield is the all-Indian Eicher Motor Group and they have made massive investments that have led to much of the research, development, prototyping and testing of new models now being undertaken in the UK. Royal Enfield poached a great deal of these staff from Triumph and Royal Enfield management have given them the freedom, and budget, to bring a new level of engineering prowess to the brand.
The charismatic Managing Director of Eicher Motors Ltd Siddhartha Lal is extremely proud of what the new more modern Royal Enfield had achieved stating, “120 years is a long legacy for the brand, and we are very happy to have made it count. Royal Enfield is not just a motorcycle brand, it is a symbol of resilience and exploration and has been able to build a thriving culture of leisure riding around the world. Through these years we have endeavoured to stay authentic to our roots, continued to remain unique and distinctive, established a genre of leisure motorcycling that is accessible, inclusive, and absolutely enjoyable, and stayed relevant through the decades. Our goal is to strengthen Royal Enfield’s position as a truly global brand, and we will continue to challenge ourselves to develop products and experiences that will give wings to our desire to go further and experience new frontiers.”
As for me, the last time I rode a Royal Enfield was at the end of the last century. It was a Royal Enfield Bullet 500 that I covered a couple of thousand kilometres on during one of the late Ken Wootton’s masochistic annual jaunts through the Snowy Mountains in the middle of winter. To say it was a bit agricultural was quite an understatement. With a top speed of just 100 km/h it had trouble passing semis as when it got to the “bow wave” it would basically stop. Add in the cross-frame gear linkages that altered the gear shift from right foot to left foot, there was a massive amount of linkage slack. The build quality was pretty ordinary but it had some character, and in its defence, didn’t miss a beat.
Fast forward to the here and now in 2021 and I headed to rendezvous with the all-new Royal Enfield Meteor 350, with some amount of trepidation. As soon as I cast an eye over the machine sitting at Mid Life Cycles in inner city Richmond in Melbourne, it was very apparent that the attention to detail and finish is a far cry from what I found two decades ago.
While the Meteor name might hark back to the 1950s, the company stresses that it is all new from the ground up and has been developed by the same engineering team as the critically acclaimed 650 Interceptor and Continental bikes. Meteor is the second model platform developed from inception to meet the requirements of the global market.
The Meteor possesses that unmistakable retrospective Royal Enfield styling but with fuel-injection, a five-speed constant mesh box, a balance shaft to cut down on single-cylinder vibrations, and more subtle features like braided brake lines and dual channel ABS.
The Meteor features a new 349 cc single cylinder, four-stroke oil and air cooled engine with fuel injection. Cylinder bore is 72 mm while the stroke is a long 85.5 mm and the SOHC powerplant delivers a whisker over 20 horsepower at 6100 rpm and 27 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm. At idle it seems to tick over at about 100 revs! You can hardly feel or hear it.
The drivetrain is housed in a new design, twin down-tube, spine frame while large engine cooling fins add to the retro look of the machine.
The engine is fed the go-juice from a 15 litre fuel tank which should prove good enough for around 300 kilometres between refills.
Up front, are non-adjustable 41mm telescopic conventional forks with 130 mm travel. The twin-shock rear offers six-stage adjustable preload.
The front wheel is a 19-inch alloy aimed at providing stability on dodgy backroads, they have a few of those in India, while a single 300 mm front disc and fully floating caliper bring forward progress to a halt. You will never do a ‘stoppie’ on one but that is definitely not in its design brief. The front anchor provides adequate stopping power and I did get the ABS to operate while braking purposefully heavy for a set of lights. The rear wheel is 17 inches with a generously sized 270 mm rear disc brake that helps haul up the 191 kg Meteor.
The dash has an analogue speedo with a seven stage digital fuel gauge, gear indicator, trip meter and clock as well as the usual idiot lights for engine, ABS and a neutral light. Adding to some of the modern 21st century touches is Royal Enfield’s ‘Tripper’ navigation system driven from Bluetooth on your phone. I was interested to see how this worked but unfortunately my Oppo branded mobile phone wouldn’t talk to the system. No doubt the cure for that is only a software update away.
Styling is somewhat roadster meets cruiser and this is also reflected in the riding position. The upswept ‘bars are high and wide with the riding posture a ‘sit-up-and-beg’ style. The pegs are in a mid-forward mount position reminiscent of some Harley Sportster models.
At 765 mm the Meteor pew is nice and close to terra-firma and provides more of a ‘sit-in’ feel than many bikes of this ilk.
Cogs are shifted via a heel and toe operation that provides easy changes through the new five-speed, constant mesh box that has none of the clunk and long throw of the earlier generation Bullet machines.
The bike is definitely not everyone’s cup of chai but Royal Enfield have listened and reacted. I reckon if you really pushed it you may see 120 km/h on the speedo on a long run, but it’s not built for that. This is an easy going light commuter or learner machine. Perhaps the inner-city hipsters might like them for jotting down to a pier for a cup of decafe soy latte.
On the whole I was pleasantly surprised by its performance, handling and steering. The fuel injection offers smooth and responsive power delivery, while its 1400 mm wheelbase and 19-inch front provide stability without compromising agility. The Meteor would make a great little commuter as it hauls off the lights ahead of the cages and zips through traffic with ease.
The motto for Royal Enfield is ‘Built Like a Gun’, no doubt a reference to the company’s earlier involvement in arms manufacture. Ever heard of the Lee-Enfield .303?
In this modern age of high performance, of being the biggest, the fastest etc, the Royal Enfield brand demonstrates that its mission statement is about the journey rather than about how fast you get to the destination.
There are intially three offerings in the Meteor line-up that are only really separated by the colours and accessories fitted. The ‘Fireball’ kicks off the line-up from $7690 Ride Away and is available in red or yellow. In the middle is the ‘Stellar ‘that comes with a lumbar support/back rest (if Pepe LePew has been banned can we still use the term, sissy-bar?), and is available in three colours; blue, red or black for $7990 Ride Away. The Supernova adds a windscreen and is available in brown or blue with a price tag of $8390 Ride Away.
A bit more enticement to prospective buyers is a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and roadside assistance package put together by Royal Enfield Australia that is complimentary to all customers. I enjoyed my very short time with the machine and look forward to seeing where Royal Enfield go from here.
Royal Enfield Meteor 350 Specifications
Single Cylinder, 4 Stroke, Air Cooled
20.2 hp @ 6100 rpm
27 Nm @ 4000 rpm
Digital electronic ignition
5 Speed Constant Mesh
Twin Downtube Spine Frame
Telescopic 41mm, 130mm travel
Twin tube emulsion shock absorbers with 6-step adjustable preload
MCNEWS.COM.AU is a specialist on-line resource that provides motorcycle news for motorcyclists. MCNews covers all areas of interest for the motorcycling public including news, reviews and comprehensive racing coverage.